After the morning in the American History Museum I sat on a bench overlooking the mall and ate my lunch then stepped next door to the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.
I did not write down ages (trust me--they were old) or names of what I was looking at (most were not easy to pronounce anyway) so you aren't going to learn much from these photos. Except I hope you get the feeling that I did--life is very complex and very interesting in its evolution....
The span of that jaw is over 6 feet!
The scientist sitting behind the glass is examining fossils under a microscope. Outside of the windows are TV screens so we could watch and see what he was looking at. The stuff he examines comes to him from other scientists all over the world who are digging the stuff up and mailing it to the Smithsonian. I remembered that Aunt Louise's yard in Ft. Worth is sprinkled with shells from the time that Texas was the floor of the sea. I'll have to tell her to send him a box full from her backyard.
And then I saw Lucy! Lucy's actual bones are in a vault in Ethiopia but casts were made of the bones and the skeleton was reconstructed.
Altogether they found over 40% of the skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis in 1974 in a hot, dry valley of Ethiopia. When the scientists learned it was an upright female they named her Lucy--from the Beatles song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds". (Now, isn't that so cool?) She lived 3.2 million years ago and she is special because she lived before the skull had expanded (and the brain increased) but she walked upright. She may not have been a direct ancestor but she was definitely a part of the family.
I spent a lot of time studying her and learned how they know she walked upright--the shape of the hips and the connection between the hips and the legs and the way the spine seats into the skull. They know she did not live in trees because of the length of her arms and fingers but they think she still climbed for food and safety. They know she is a female by the shape of the pelvis. She was fully grown and 3'7" tall (She's the munchkin ancestor!) And there was so much more. By the time I moved on I felt a real kinship to her. If they find my bones lying around in 3 million years from now I wonder what they will do with me. I hope I go on display in the Smithsonian Earth Science Museum on some far away planet so little alien spacelings can earn enough Pulgras to come and gawk at me.
(Note: Pulgras is the brand of my favorite kind of butter.)